Rescuing Your Company’s Creativity

Edition: September 2002 - Vol 10 Number 09
Article#: 1317
Author: Repertoire

Time pressure may make people feel more creative – but it usually stifles actual creative thinking. On highest pressure days, most people are 45 percent less likely to generate fresh ideas.

You can’t eliminate time pressure – but in some firms, creativity actually thrives under brutal or relaxed deadlines. How? Managers minimize the impact of time pressure by helping people feel they’re on a mission or an expedition, rather than on a treadmill or autopilot. Employees feel engaged and challenged, and managers clearly explain why the work is important and the deadlines legitimate. These managers also free their people from distractions, so they work on one key project for most of the day. The payoff? Thinking that’s focused and fresh.

(From “Creativity Under the Gun” by Teresa M. Amabile, Constance N. Hadley and Steven J. Kramer, Harvard Business Review)

In pursuing productivity, efficiency and control, managers may unintentionally kill creativity by neglecting employees’ intrinsic motivation – their deep passion for certain challenges and activities. When work itself is motivating, individual creativity and corporate success thrive.

Thus, don’t rely solely on extrinsic motivation – such as offers of raises and bonuses or threats of firing – to enhance creativity. They may make people feel bribed or controlled.

Instead, challenge people – but not too much. Give them freedom within broad company goals – tell them which mountain to climb, but let them decide how to climb it. Also, set realistic deadlines, provide sufficient support – and perhaps most importantly – let people know their work matters.

(From “How to Kill Creativity,” by Teresa M. Amabile, Harvard Business Review)

Creativity emerges from collisions – between new ideas and between contrasting cognitive and problem-solving styles. To cultivate this creative abrasion, get people with markedly different thinking styles – left-brain (linear, analytical) and right-brain (nonlinear, intuitive), abstract and experiential, collaborative and independent – working together. You’ll stimulate original ideas and benefit from a rich tapestry of perspectives….

You’ll have to actively manage the creative process. Acknowledge team members’ differences, establish conflict-management rules, and keep goals clearly in view. Allow time for divergent and convergent thinking, and recognize different approaches as simply different – not wrongheaded.

(From “Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work” by Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Straus, Harvard Business Review)

From: “Best of HBR on Rescuing Your Company’s Creativity,” a collection of articles from the Harvard Business Review. (HBR product number 1563). To order this collection ($16.95), visit HBR’s website at: